Joey Logano won his way into NASCAR’s Chase championship round Sunday. Kyle Busch made it on points. Matt Kenseth wrecked out of it.
Those were the storylines from a taut, action-filled Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, a race set up to determine who would join Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards in the final four next Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“I don’t think I can put it into words,” said Logano, who, along with Busch and Kenseth, was one of six drivers in contention for the final two berths entering the race. “I’m still excited about it. I’m still yelling and screaming down in Victory Lane. Think about that: There aren’t many race teams who have the opportunity to feel that weight on their shoulders and are able to execute under that [pressure]. A lot of people crack in those situations, and this team doesn’t.”
Logano moves on after edging reigning champion Busch in a green-white-checkered finish. That was good enough for Busch to also be included in the final four, something that didn’t seem possible just moments earlier.
There aren’t many race teams who have the opportunity to feel that weight on their shoulders and are able to execute under that [pressure]. A lot of people crack in those situations, and this team doesn’t.
As the race wound down, Kenseth appeared to be closing in on a victory that would have automatically qualified him for the final four.
Logano and Busch, both inside the top four in the standings, trailed him. If they finished tied for fourth in the standings, Logano owned the tiebreaker based on a better finish earlier in the round. Kevin Harvick, in fourth, could have upset that calculation in Busch’s favor if he passed Logano.
Then mayhem broke out after Michael McDowell blew a tire on the white-flag lap. Kenseth lined up on the outside of the front row on the restart, with pole-winner Alex Bowman on the inside.
As they raced into Turn 1, Kenseth drove down on Bowman, who had been bumped from the behind by Busch. Thinking he had cleared Bowman’s No. 88 Chevy, Kenseth instead hit Bowman. Kenseth got the worst of it.
“I don’t really know what happened,” said Kenseth. “I knew (Bowman) had more than a car length behind me so I just tried to get going early. The spotter said I was clear and I certainly wanted to be at the bottom and be in front of him going into Turn 2 and then I was in the wall. I don’t really know any more than that.”
Chris Osborne, Kenseth’s spotter, took responsibility for the accident on Twitter after the race.
Joey Logano and Kyle Busch complete a final four that has two champions (Jimmie Johnson and Busch) and two (Carl Edwards and Logano) who have come close before.
The wreck allowed Logano to cruise by and, with Busch behind him, into the championship round.
“I kind of saw it coming,” Logano said of the wreck. “I saw (Busch) getting a run on (Bowman from behind), and I was like, ‘Oh, boy.’ I knew Kyle was going to go three wide. He had to. He’s racing for a championship. That’s the desperation that sets in.
“I saw (Bowman) go for the block, and then I saw how hard (Kenseth) drove in, and I said, ‘This ain’t going to work.’ So I started checking up really early because I saw it coming, and I just made sure. I’ve just got to make sure I get underneath it because they’re going to come washing up the race track pretty quick here.”
Logano and Busch complete a final four that has two champions (Johnson and Busch) and two (Edwards and Logano) who have come close before.
Logano made the final four in 2014, finishing fourth behind champion Kevin Harvick. Busch was last season’s winner, despite missing the first 11 races with a broken foot and leg. Johnson will go for a potential record-tying seventh title. Edwards is in the final four for the first time and has his best chance at a championship since finishing second behind Tony Stewart in 2011.
“I love racing against these guys,” said Johnson, who finished 38th Sunday. “Each year it’s amazing to watch everybody’s talent increase, the garage get more competitive, and just how hard we all have to race one another.”
This season: 4 victories; 10 top-five finishes.
Career at Homestead: 0 victories in 15 starts; average finish, 14.1
This season: Four victories; 16 top-five finishes.
Career at Homestead: 1 victory in 11 starts; average finish, 21.1.
This season: 3 victories; 9 top-five finishes
Career at Homestead: 2 victories in 12 starts; average finish, 9.2.
This season: 2 victories, 14 top-five finishes
Career at Homestead: 0 victories in 7 starts; average finish, 17.7.